Monday 28 November 2011

Winter Waves in Caldy

Yesterday (27th November) the hide tide and high winds combined to make the sea at Caldy wild and rough.  

Stop Art

Stop Art - Empty frame is big improvement (September 1965)


The Riverbank - Darwin & Negrin

The Riverbank 

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

The above is the fantastic final paragraph of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859). It is also the text for the childrens book HERE illustrated by Argentinian Fabian Negrin and winner of the 2010 Ragazzi award for non-fiction graphic design.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Whats happenin' Stateside

One of the key elements of my week when I was younger was buying the NME. Along with the regular columns they began releasing a set of collectible compilation cassettes from about 1981. 

My personal favourite was NME 027 - Whats happenin' stateside. Released in Autumn of 1986 this was a compilation of tracks from the Stateside label. I literally wore out the copy I had. 

Now thanks to the wonder of the Internet the complete collection of NME cassettes has been brought together, with artwork and downloadable MP3's. HERE

Friday 25 November 2011

Chasing the Devil out of the Anvil

My Dad began his working life in a workshop in Liverpool. He was originally apprenticed to the blacksmith and his first job was to come into the forge early in the morning and get the paraffin drip fired forge going. In his experience he had found that the blacksmiths tended to be a bit grumpy, probably due to the life time of incessant noisy hammering they had endured. 

The workshop specialised in making the iron hoops or tires that went on the outside of  wooden wheels for horse drawn carts, which were still used in the pre-war haulage trade in Liverpool.  

One of the things that my Dad told me about when I was 14 or 15 was the important tradition that he had learnt in the forge; every morning the first thing that the blacksmith did was run his small hammer gently along the top face of the anvil with a rhythmic tattoo, this was to chase the devil out of the anvil.  For many years I forgot about this small anecdote connecting me back to the early years of my Dad's work in pre-second world war Liverpool.

Between 2005 and 2007 I studied in the Department of Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers University of Technology (CHALMERS TEKNISKA HÖGSKOLA) in Gothenberg. Towards the end of the course we were lucky enough to have a VIP tour of the recently built full scale sailing replica of the Götheborg -  an 18th century Swedish East Indiaman that had sank off Gothenburg on 12th September 1745 while approaching its home harbour after returning from her third voyage to China. Although all the sailors survived the sinking of the ship, the vessel itself was lost.  

After the tour around the ship we had a special meal cooked for us in the blacksmiths forge near to the boat and this included a demonstration of traditional smithing skills by the blacksmith who had made all of the nails, bolts and fittings for the Götheborg.  

Whilst I was making a simple nail with the blacksmith I told him that my Dad had been a blacksmith, I also asked him whether he knew about the tradition of chasing the devil out of the anvil practiced by English blacksmiths. 

Not only did the blacksmith know exactly what I was talking about but he and his fellow Swedish blacksmiths had exactly the same ritual and apparently for the same reason as English blacksmiths. During the night evil spirits come into the forge and make themselves at home underneath the anvil. If a hammer has been left on the anvil the devils play havoc and make a noise in the workshop. Because of this superstition the first thing a blacksmith needs to do before working on the anvil in the morning, and to ensure a good days work, is to use his small hammer to chase out the devil. 

So almost thirty years after I had first heard this expression, and over a thousand kilometres as the crow flies from Liverpool to Gothenberg, I found out the reason why blacksmiths in Sweden and England (and who knows, probably all over the world) chase the devil out of the anvil. 


To Do (by John Lennon)

A handwritten "To Do" list by John Lennon in black ink on 8.5 x 11.25 yellow lined paper is now for sale on an internet auction site (HERE)

The list of rather everyday chores includes books that Lennon wanted returned to him as well as books he wanted. Fixing the hook on the bathroom door, moving Sean Lennon's large mattress and waiting for the cable guy to show up. The fourth item Marmalade, shows that Lennon was a typical Englishman in New York. 

It appears that no matter how sophisticated and famous people are, their lives are composed of numerous everyday and prosaic actions. 

Thursday 24 November 2011

The Young Leonardo

HERE is a short and interesting paper describing how free software was used to extract a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci from one of his notebooks.

A self-portrait of young Leonardo. 

Amelia Carolina Sparavigna 
Dipartimento di Fisica 
Politecnico di Torino 

"One of the most famous drawings by Leonardo da Vinci is a self-portrait in red chalk, where he looks quite old. In fact, there is a sketch in one of his notebooks, partially covered by written notes, that can be a self-portrait of the artist when he was young. The use of image processing, to remove the handwritten text and improve the image, allows a comparison of the two portraits."

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Paul is Dead

Although I was born in Liverpool in 1961, and I lived there until I was about seven, I have never been a big Beatles fan. However, one of my all time favourite songs is I'm so tired by the Beatles which appears on The White Album.  The song is credited to Lennon/McCartney but was sung by John Lennon.

According to Wikipedia; 

Lennon wrote the song at a Transcendental Meditation camp when he could not sleep. The Beatles had gone on a retreat to study with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India. After three weeks of constant meditation and lectures, Lennon missed his soon-to-be wife, Yoko Ono, and was plagued by insomnia that inspired the song. Lennon later said of it: "One of my favourite tracks. I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well".

The song includes the following couple of lines

I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired I'll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
He was such a stupid get.

This couplet includes the immortal Liverpudlian rhyming of Cigarette with stupid get. When sung by Lennon he lets rip with his full and pronounced scouse accent.  

This song is also one of the sources of the Paul is Dead conspiracy. At the end of the song there is some mumbling in the background that when played backward sounds like "Paul is a dead man. Miss him. Miss him. Miss him."

You can hear the fragment both forwards and backwards HERE.

There is a great article by Michael Shermer in Scientific American that uses the idea of Paul being dead as an exemplar of anecdotal thinking coming naturally and  science requiring training HERE.

Thursday 17 November 2011

The surface of the Moon as you have never seen it before.

HERE is a set of beautiful topographic images of the surface of the moon. They are of unprecedented height resolution and lovely to look at.

The mapping is colour coded to reveal the surface shape of the Moon. The different colours are used to represent the elevations of the craters, mountains and ridges of the moons surface (White highest, down red, orange, green, blue and violet lowest). Each pixel is about 100 metres across.

Design Challenge

Over at his blog Information is Beautiful David McCandless has hooked up with the Guardian to give away a $5000 prize for the best infographic designs. 

They point out that designing an infographic is as much about ideas as it is about using fancy software.

To illustrate this they include some of McCandless' own "back of an envelope" design ideas that ended up in his book HERE

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Before Wikipedia

When I was growing up there was no Wikipedia. 

In order to learn about anything you needed to get your encyclopedia out. Posh people and the library had the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was enormous, was bought from a door-to-door salesman, cost almost as much as a three bedroomed semi-detached house and took more than 10 years to buy on a bespoke form of HP.

We were the proud owners of a battered set of Newnes Pictorial Knowledge. The edition we had was complete and was from the late 1950's or early 1960's - the covers were a quilted effect maroon. 

I was a strange child and would spend hours flicking through this set of Pictorial Knowledge volumes at random to learn about how a cricket ball was made. Or look at a colour cut away of an early passenger aircraft. Or the latest in mechanical looms. On the basis of this form of self-education I can remember even to this day how to use a straw filled pit to slow cook a meal, the deep sea explorations of the Bathyscaphe Trieste and how pioneering engineers had laid telegraph cables on the ocean floor. 

But the stuff in Pictorial Knowledge that I can remember the clearest were the photos and text that described the Bell X1 experimental plane that was flown by Chuck Yeager. This plane looked like a slightly modified rocket and it was dropped from the bomb bay of a modified B29 bomber. In this modified rocket Yeager reached Mach 1.06 (361 m/s, 1,299 km/h, 807.2 mph) on October 14th 1947.

Happy days.

Grapes to Raisins in electron Microscopy

The following paper includes a Figure (shown below) that is used to highlight what happens to a biological sample when it is prepared for electron microscopy.

The processes involved in classic preparation steps for electron microscopy involve chemical cross linking, dehydration, extraction and relocation of both microstructure and chemical composition. These steps are  comparable to the dramatic metamorphosis that grapes undergo while being dried into raisins.

Monday 14 November 2011

A new Geologic era

The Anthropocene is a proposed way of naming our current geologic era.  Here is the definition:

"A period marked by a regime change in the activity of industrial societies which began at the turn of the nineteenth century and which has caused global disruptions in the Earth System on a scale unprecedented in human history: climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution of the sea, land and air, resources depredation, land cover denudation, radical transformation of the ecumene, among others. These changes command a major realignment of our consciousness and worldviews, and call for different ways to inhabit the Earth."

A cartography of the Anthropocene is HERE.

Saturday 12 November 2011

If you know what you are doing...

Richard Hamming: The Art of Doing Science and Engineering.

"In science, if you know what you are doing, you should not be doing it. In engineering, if you do not know what you are doing, you should not be doing it."

Darwins Emotions

You can now help a team at Cambridge University who are studying the images used by Charles Darwin in his book on facial expressions of motion. The Experiment is HERE. The blurb reads;

Between March and November 1868, while Darwin was researching his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, he showed a succession of visitors a set of photographs of human faces, some with the muscles artificially contracted by electric probes, and asked them what emotion they thought the photographs conveyed. Darwin’s research has striking parallels with contemporary facial recognition experiments. 

We have recreated Darwin’s expression experiment online, using 21st century techniques to study many of the same problems that Darwin was interested in, using the same photographs Darwin used more than 100 years ago. There are eleven photographs and the experiment can be completed in under one minute. We will collect the (completely anonymous) responses and report on the findings here in due course.

There is also a recently published book by Phillip Prodger on how Darwin came to write his book and its impact HERE

Driftwood Images

Some pictures of a big lump of driftwood from Red Rocks. Played with in PhotoFiltre.

13pt - NYT Standard Infographics

13pt are an outstanding design studio specialising in infographics, maps and other graphic material, often for the New York Times.

There are numerous examples on their site but here is an outstanding example;

The New York Times

September 29, 2009
Winner of a silver medal in mapping from the Society for News Design and a bronze medal from the international Malofiej competition

SNDMalofiej 18
”This is really impressive: It’s a complex subject, to describe how water moves. It’s amazing how they handle the big challenge. The graphic stays with you even at its most difficult parts. There are so few highly involved graphics like this that let us walk away feeling like we’re an expert in the subject. Now we understand flow dynamics.”
— The Best of Newspaper Design, 31st Edition

The Throne

I have put an old wooden garden chair in a favourite spot at the bottom of the garden. It is as close as I will ever get to a throne.

Fox Talbot Calotype

Here is a William Henry Fox Talbot Calotype rotated, cleaned up and re-coloured. 

Friday 11 November 2011

Its Just a Hand...

Here is a very good illustrated essay that purports to be a rant about interface design, but is actually a deep appreciation of the flexibility, subtlety and capability of the human hand. 

Thursday 10 November 2011

The Illustrated Guide to a PhD

Matt Might has perhaps the best description of a PhD I have ever seen HERE

On the whole I have been very fortunate, and one of the forms of good fortune I have enjoyed is the chance to have studied for a PhD. In the British educational system getting a PhD is a long and lonely road. There is almost no taught element, but you learn about exploration and abstraction and in a science PhD about the importance of hard graft.

Having really enjoyed the experience and reflecting a lot on what I got out of it, I wish I had thought of using this approach to explain what a PhD was about. But I didn't. 

I do however dedicate this to all of my friends who have also been privileged enough to have got a PhD. 

As Matt Might puts it: Keep Pushing.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

Is a book by Tom Wolfe about the early US astronauts and their experiences and the dangers and challenges of being part of a brand new and adventurous endeavour. 

Here is the Foreword
This book grew out of some ordinary curiosity. What is it, I wondered, that makes a man willing to sit up on top of and enormous Roman candle, such as a Redstone, Atlas, Titan, or Saturn rocket, and wait for someone to light the fuse? I decided on the simplest approach possible. I would ask a few astronauts and find out. So I asked a few in December 1972 when they gathered at Cape Canaveral to watch the last mission to the moon, Apollo 17. I discovered quickly enough that none of them, no matter how talkative to otherwise, was about to answer the question or even linger for more than a few seconds on the subject at the heart of it, which is to say, courage.

But I did sense that the answer was not to be found in any set of traits specific to the task of flying into space. The great majority of the astronauts who had flown the rockets had come from the ranks of test pilots. All but a few had been military test pilots, and even those few, such as Neil Armstrong, had been trained in the military. And it was this that led me to a rich and fabulous terrain that, in a literary sense, had remained as dark as the far side of the moon for more than a half a century: military flying and the modern American officer corps.
Immediately following the First World War a certain fashion set in among writers in Europe and soon spread to their obedient colonial counterparts in the United States. War was looked upon as inherently monstrous, and those who waged it - namely, military officers - were looked upon as brutes and philistines. The tone was set by some brilliant novels; among them, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Journey on the End of the Night, and The Good Soldier Schweik. The only proper protagonist for a tale of war was an enlisted man, and he was to be presented not as a hero but as Everyman, as much as a victim of war as any civilian. Any officer above the rank of second lieutenant was to be presented as a martinet of a fool, if not an outright villain, no matter whom he fought for. The old-fashioned tale of prowess and heroism was relegated to second- and third-rate forms of literature, ghost-written autobiographies and stories in pulp magazines on the order of Argosy and Bluebook.

Even as late as the 1930s the favorite war stories in the pulps concerned World War I pilots. One of the few scientific treatises ever written on the subject of bravery is The Anatomy of Courage by Charles Moran, who served as a doctor in the trenches for the British in World War I (and who was  better known later as Lord Moran, personal physician to Winston Churchill). Writing in the 1920s, Moran predicted that in the wars of the future adventurous young men who sought glory in the war would tend to seek it as pilots. In the twentieth century, he said, they would regard the military pilot as the quintessence of manly daring that the cavalryman had been in the nineteenth.

Serious treatment of the drama and psychology of this new pursuit, flying high-performance aircraft in battle, was left to the occasional pilot who could write, the most notable of them being Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The literary world remained oblivious. Nevertheless, young men did what Moran predicted. They became military officers so that they could fly, and they flew against astonishingly deadly odds. As late a 1970, I was to discover in an article by a military doctor in a medical journal a career Navy pilot faced a 23 percent likelihood of dying in an accident. This did not even include deaths in combat, which at that time, with the war in Vietnam in progress, were catastrophically high for Navy pilots. The Right Stuff became the the story of why men were willing - willing? - delighted! -to take such odds in this, and era literary people had long since characterized as the age of the anti-hero. Such was the psychological mystery that animated me in the writing of this book. And if there were those readers who were not interested in the exploration of space per se but who were interested in The Right Stuff nonetheless, perhaps it might have been because the mystery caught their imagination as well as mine.

Since this book was first published in 1979 I have enjoyed corresponding with many pilots and with many widows of pilots. Not all have written to pat me on the back, but almost all seemed grateful that someone had tried - and it had to be an outsider - to put into words certain matters that the very code of the pilot rules off-limits in conversation. These...matters...add up to one of the most extraordinary and most secret dramas of the twentieth century.

Tom Wolfe
August 1983 

Red Rocks Hoylake

One of the loveliest locations on the Wirral peninsula is Red Rocks in Hoylake. This is literally at the western corner of the Wirrral where the Dee estuary meets the Irish Sea. On a sunny day at high tide it is fantastic. At any time of the year the views out to Hilbre Island are very special. And they have real sand dunes. 

And an aerial photo of the area from Google Maps showing the location and rough viewpoint.


The latest edition of Glimpse Magazine, on Cartography, is out HERE.

Sunday 6 November 2011

The View from Paton's Memorial West Kirby

At the top of the (tiny) hill near to my home, which I regularly walk to, there is a memorial to a now virtually unknown local dignitary; Alfred Vaughan Paton KBE (1861-1939). I have no idea what he did, but he was evidently reasonable enough to donate a big piece of his land to the Urban District Council and this land is now free for anyone to walk on. 

The memorial was set up in 1933 and in accordance with Paton's wish, a viewfinder was set up on the spot. The viewfinder has compass directions indicated and pointers and mile markings to a number of things of interest, some of which can be seen from there;

Birkenhead - 7 Miles,
Liverpool  - 8 1/2 Miles
Bidston Mill  - 4 1/2 Miles
Black Coombe - 62 Miles

The corners have ornate markers for NE, NW, SE, SW.

The view from Paton's memorial changes every time I go. The tide, weather, lighting and season interact to mean that the view is never the same twice. 

Guy Fawkes Night

The fireworks seem to be fewer this year. But Guy Fawkes Night is still celebrated throughout the UK. We had a quiet night with close friends. And they brought us a beautiful bowl of small flowers, berries and leaves.

A close-up, filtered and played with.

Saturday 5 November 2011

National Train Day USA

Here is an illustration by Japanese design studio IC4 for the National Train Day 2010.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Song + Dub

The Jamaican producer and musician Augustus Pablo was a melodica playing reggae musician. In the late 1970's he teamed up with legendary studio wizard King Tubby. This pairing led to the release in 1978 of a classic dub reggae album; King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown

Dub is a stripped down version of an original reggae song. 

Here is a visual comparison of the first 4.4 seconds of a vocal track by the singer Jacob Miller and the dubbed version of the track by Augustus Pablo. I have made efforts to make sure that the two waveforms are properly aligned. 

Stefanie Posavec - First Chapters

Stefanie Posavec is an artist based in London who makes data visualisations. Here she explains how she goes about collating and collecting the data she will visualise. 

"I spend lots of time reading and rereading text and counting words or counting numbers or just going through a subject matter repeatedly until I have all the data in a notebook, and then I use that data to create my graphics. By reading and rereading these texts, I’m able to understand more about a specific text or a specific subject matter than I would otherwise, than I would if I wrote a computer program to analyze that text for me.” 

Some examples.